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‘Fiducia Supplicans’: Much Ado about Something

By Judie Brown

The well-known Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy filled with romance, courtship, and various human foibles. It is a very funny story, totally unlike the most recent Vatican declaration, Fiducia Supplicans. The document addresses the meaning of blessings and the situations to which they apply. Where the wicket gets sticky is found in these words:

One should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation. At the same time, one should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing. In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely.

What these words imply is not easy to discern. Perhaps the Vatican clarification is supposed to help, but as Catholic commentator Phil Lawler points out, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith clarifies nothing other than to reiterate what Catholic priests already know about the variety of blessings they can provide (i.e., mixed-faith marriages, pets, wedding rings, and so on). In other words, the waters continue to be muddied while the kernels of truth about homosexuality, homosexual unions, mixed-faith marriage, and divorced Catholics are avoided.

Whether or not this was the intention is really not the point. The teaching contained in the document is not clear and in fact appears to have been intentionally vague. Writing on this precise question, John Grondelski, commenting on a recent New York Times article, opines, “The Church’s mission is not to promote your lifestyle but to put every lifestyle under Gospel scrutiny, calling for conversion where it is needed. The person who thinks the Church’s mission is to declare ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ is mistaken about both Church and mission.”

I find his insight on the challenge presented with Fiducia Supplicans to be most helpful for the simple reason that the Church teaches truth, never accommodating current fads or sexual preference. Sin is always sin, and it never goes out of style to point out this obvious truth.

In a Catholic World Report article, writer Christopher Altieri addressed the Vatican’s attempt to clarify the document. He stated, “The purpose of Fiducia supplicans appears to have been twofold: It was to rein in bishops and bishops’ conferences that have already gone too far—think Belgium and Germany—and also encourage reticent bishops to loosen up. Fernández has now all but admitted in words that the attempt failed spectacularly on both counts.”

That is exactly the point. Had the Vatican left well enough alone and adhered to classical, legitimate Catholic teaching, the confusion would have never happened, but now as the proverbial saying goes, the cat is out of the bag.

And while the pope suggests that opposition to the document is coming from “small ideological groups,” the truth is as clear as Catholic leaders like Father Jeffrey Kirby say it is. Father Kirby notes:

The recent declaration Fiducia Supplicans, however, is not a reflection of a healthy Church. The pastoral concessions it gives for the blessing of people in same-sex relationships and other irregular marriages is imprudent and does not reflect reality “on the ground.” In fact, this declaration—however well-intentioned it might be—causes unnecessary confusion, moral ambiguity, anger, pastoral hurt, and a regrettable, needless tension between the baptized and their appointed shepherds.

The bottom line is that the Vatican foray into legitimizing sinful behaviors has resulted in a cauldron of trouble boiling and bubbling in a Church already in need of calm and peace—gifts that the Lord can give but the Vatican apparently cannot.

To my mind, that is indeed much ado about something rotten, and it reeks with compromise.